That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

That Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Every time I get involved in some drama online I am sure to hear from someone who thinks I’m just an awful, awful person who should shut up. This is not uncommon amongst people who post about race/gender/sexual orientation/etc. shenanigans. I have my special box of trolls just like most other activists do.

I got a note from a newish detractor back during the RoF cover stuff who left a comment that was nothing more than trolling without even the appearance of trying to have a conversation or be a useful member of the conversation. I usually just delete these, but in this instance I wrote him an email explaining why I would not be releasing his comment and being snarky at him (my tolerance for stupidity was low at that moment). The reply contained what one might expect, but also contained two curious elements.

#1: I’m rather glad you didn’t post the comment and replied via email, as now I can be rather more honest than I would be in a blog posting (which is more public, after all).

#2: you’re a person whose principal interest lies not in addressing substantive matter of the various levels of discrimination that exist in the SFF community, but in scoring points off people. You appear to take pleasure in misrepresenting, insulting and ridiculing others–essentially inflicting pain on them.[1]

This commenter — Euan Harvey — seems to be under the impression that it’s perfectly okay to abuse me in private email but not in public.[2] But while claiming that he’s allowed to be as nasty as he likes, he also condemns me for being MEEN myself. Perhaps he feels it would be more acceptable if I were meen in private. I’m not sure.

The phrase “scoring points off people” is an oft-used one by a particular selection of my trolls, but variants of it crop up all over. Again, I’m not unique in this regard. We wild unicorns always have someone talking about how what we do is just to satisfy our own need to be angry, or to inflict pain on others, or whatever else.

But this email struck me in particular and made me think about exactly what this scoring points thing was really about. I finally grokked what was going on after some thought. It’s something I’ve always understood on a subconscious level, but never really articulated before. It’s something along the lines of: how dare I use these people’s own words and attitudes against them? How dare I, in public, on well-read blogs and in the company of influential and intelligent people, repeat what they have said or written and expose it for the crap it really is?

This is part of the tone argument — because how often have you heard people say that if only POC would take white folks aside, privately, and explain to them where they went wrong instead of getting angry in public, everything would be okay. We’d be listened to, respected, etc., if only we went about things properly. It’s a square on the BINGO card.

There’s also an element of: you can’t possibly mean the things you say because they are so unfavorable toward me. Instead, you must just hate me for irrational reasons and wish to destroy me. It’s all about me.

And: this is just a game to you. I cannot fathom how this could be an important issue to you because it’s not an important one to me (I’m not affected by it, I’m white/male/straight). No, it’s really that you just enjoy a good hate-on and keep a scoreboard of all the people you’ve hurt.

If I have to explain all the ways in which those things are totally wrong, then you have not been paying very close attention to things I say.

Anyway, having all of that crystallize in my head was an interesting moment. It never fails to boggle me, the notions that people will hold. Or the grudges. Some people really do seem to think I do all of this for my health. I’ll leave them to their fantasies.


  1. Yes, these are direct quotes.[]
  2. I love how he assumes that his emails will be kept private. But if he truly believes all I want to do is hurt people, why in the world would I keep this private? Trolls just do not think these things through, do they?[]